Martyn and Wayne, 29th October 2001
Since the demise of 3dfx, no
other product announcement has generated the kind of
speculation, rumor and fierce debate that R200 did.
From taunts that it would just be a GeForce 3 wannabe
which showcased ATi's lousy drivers to tempting glimpses
of "leaked" benchmarks that showed it to be
nicely ahead of the GeForce 3, the 'Net just couldn't
get enough speculation and insider information.
Well, at last the wait is over
and R200, now in its guise as the Radeon 7xxx and 8500
is either on shelves or well on its way, and what everybody
wants to know is "how good is it?"
The most difficult task facing
us here at Radeonic is to convince you that we can be
unbiased, and that we're not going to praise the new
Radeon range out of some strange, hypnotic brand loyalty.
We are ATi fans for sure, but that if anything makes
us a touch more critical. We too can get frustrated
that potentially great features are broken in the drivers
or that promised advancements turn out to be nothing
but hype and have no problem telling it like it is.
To convince you, the reader of
our impartiality, I had come up with a few plans :
1/ Tell you we hate ATi and
hope the 8500 is a flop : No chance we'd get away
with that, the site's name is Radeonic after all!
2/ Tell you that ATi wanted
the card back and we're really annoyed : Nope, can't
go that way either because ATi DO want
the card back, and we're really annoyed (well, upset).
3/ Hope you've read our other
reviews and trust us : I'm afraid this is the route
we're gonna have to take.
Beyond the marketing :
When ATi announced a core and
memory speed of 250/275 for the 8500, most people assumed
ATi would stick to tradition and produce final silicone
that didn't manage those speeds. Well in fact that's
what happened, but fortunately for all of us the final
silicone was running faster not slower, shipping with
a core/memory clock of 275/275 (550DDR) or 290/230 (460DDR)
for the 7500.
Much had been made of the benefits
of TRUFORM and SMOOTHVISION, and while having seen TRUFORM
in action has left me convinced about its real world
benefits, we have yet to see SMOOTHVISION in operation.
ATi claims it will be enabled in the next driver revision
due mid November, but they are asking for trouble releasing
these cards with such a major feature missing, even
if only temporarily. If I were the cynical type, I'd
wonder why ATi was releasing cards for review with this
feature missing then asking for them back before the
feature became enabled in the drivers. Is it possible
SMOOTHVISION is performing way below expectations or
is ATi's claim that sample boards are thin on the ground
accurate? I guess most of you will find out for yourselves,
though perhaps only after having bought one.
Much has already been said about
the quality of R200's shipping drivers, and though I'll
be the first to admit they still lack refinement, nobody
here has witnessed any of the examples of freezing,
rebooting and general bad behavior mentioned by some
other sites. Some reviewers seem to have conveniently
short memories when it comes to driver quality and have
an uncanny ability to forget the state NVIDIA's drivers
were in during the early months. I know because I bought
one the first GeForces to hit the UK, and even the GeForce
2 I bought later had its fair share of glitches, not
to mention the AGP power supply fiasco. ATi however
have a notorious reputation for great products destroyed
by lousy drivers, and I think it's time the public realized
that ATi's drivers don't stink, and for ATi to realize
that while they don't stink, they're far from great.
If I were ATi I'd make some serious investment in the
driver team, an investment I'm certain they'd recoup
many times over as word got out and confidence in the
We intend to take a look at both
the 7500 and the 8500 in this review, but before we
get to the specific cards let's have a quick tour of
some of technologies that make the R200 such a sweet